Is tasting a wine difficult? Or is it a skill you can learn. What are the things you have to look out for. And can you taste wine

Yes everyone can taste wine, young to old no matter what.

Tasting a wine is based on some simple rules. First what do you see, what do you smell and what do you taste. The colour of the wine often already gives you a big hint of what the flavour could be. Although many exceptions are there. What you smell is in my opinion divided in two different parts. One: the general used and international agreed terms and the second your own findings and discoveries . 

The first and often seen as most important,  is the international taste or smell of a wine. It are the general flavours/smells that are international used and are in fact easy to use and to share.  It are the ones you will find on the specific  aroma wheel. Therefor easy to learn and to remember; from the fruity flavours like strawberry or black berry. To citrus like lemons and oranges.  Or the more earth flavours like mushrooms and mud.  It’s a language spoken by wine lovers all over the world from California till Australia.

The second part are the personal associations. I used to play soccer and on rainy days the last five minutes of the practice  we used to make many slides on a special part of the field. We played on silky loam fields and on the end we looked like mud men from mars with dirt all over. 

You even tasted in the mouth.

And think about your grand ma’s closet. Mine had cigar boxes for the pins and the playing cards. Above the shelf where the slowly matured sherry bottle was stored (one glass on Sundays) maybe yours have dried Oregon (Italian) or special lemon grass (Indonesia) stored there. All depending on culture or habits. 

So how can you use all this information.

To make a tasting profile work I believe you have to use a little bit of both. So pick 3 or 4 general used terms with 3-4 terms of your own.  That way you always got a great story to tell to people.

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Ever seen a winemaker looking to the stars ? Or heard of a “special” day you are not familiar with. Big chance it’s from the biodynamic philosophy. Where some days are better to harvest then others for example.  And yes all wineries are commercial otherwise they didn’t exist. For me the best way is the sustainable way in the broadest scent

It’s been told for years that wine is a natural product. Protected from all the other opinions. Jet so many things have happened. The amount of copper in Bordeaux is enough to make a complete new bell for the church tower. 

What’s better  commercial made or biodynamic?

 I don’t know. For me the taste is far more important than the stars and elements in the sky. And I ‘m definitely not waiting for the perfect day to taste a wine when the stars are in line. Flowers day, Fruit day , Root day to name a few. But I love the new motion that’s going on in the wine world. Solar for electricity, gravity lines and ecological buildings. 

Sustainable winemaking or better “natural” wine making rocks. Taking care of the bees, the flowers and the trees. Going through the vineyard with a horse (allways remember the photo of Didier Dagueneau almost 15 years ago) and the many projects for people to be involved or to be able to grow (fairtrade among others)

Not all sustainable wines will make your heart sing. Often they have this “natural” fling in the smell and taste. Maybe to make it authentic, maybe because it’s what it will give to a wine. I don’t know. I do know that if you ever got a change to meet Nicolas Joly. You will be more open for biodynamic wine making and the possibilities there are. A man with great passion and knowledge.

The biggest question is, are we willing to get to know this wines? Willing to pay some more bucks? Willing to have some disappointments and still keeping our good intention alive? I am more and more. Maybe it comes with age (old….) maybe because responsible wine making is not only better for nature as well as the quality of the wine.  Or maybe because it’s the new trend..

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In the old days it was a lot easier. There where classic wine regions like Burgundy or Bordeaux and you had the new waves from Australia or California. Now classic styles are made in Barrossa and the modern Bordeaux can be found in the stores. What are the pro’s and cons of the modern and classic winemaking styles. If there are any. In fact I believe it’s more and more a mixture of both. Like classic wines with modern technology or visa versa modern wines with classic influences.

A great example is maybe the famous Spanish red Rioja. Specially the Gran Reserva. Years ago you really was licking the wood. Now often elegant styles with integrated wood.Modern winemaking is a great thing to have. Wines are more and more controlled and more and more precise in flavours and smell. From the sorting of the perfect grapes. Too controlled fermentation. Backed up with science in the laboratory. 

Harvest years matter less. More and more only for the volume and for the aging potential. Excellent years you can keep for 20 years good wines or maybe 10. The wines them self are well made. The knowledge of generations is combined with science to make every year a successful year. Just slightly different but still well made.

Add to this the growing of some of the greatest classic wine producers and you’re lost in the labyrinth. Most famous (classic) producers are making wine from “bottom” till Prestige. Think about the famous Penfolds line. You can find them at your local retailer and on the top wine lists of the best restaurants in the world. 

“A Penfolds Grange for you…?

Rioja is the (most) known wine region of Spain. Situated in the north. Most famous for big bold but elegant red wines.  In general made from the Tempranillo grape but many others are used. I can still remember the first time I tasted Rioja.

The first time I was impressed by the wood flavours.

Mainly from the often used new American oak barrels at that time. Now you can see more different styles. Rioja red wines are in general sold in 4 types of wines. Joven (young wines) with no or a little oak aging. Crianza with  a minimum of 1 year oak and 6 weeks bottle aging (released after the third year) Reserva minimum of 1 year oak aging and 6 months in bottle and Gran Reserva with a minimum of 2 years oak aging and 2 years in the bottle. Next to these facts or rules producers have to follow, differences can be made.  

Barrels and grapes make the difference among others.

First the grape. the leading grape of the Rioja region is the Tempranillo almost 75 % of the vineyards are devoted to this vine. Other grapes that may be used are Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana tinta. All with their own characteristics to make great Rioja wines. Garnacha to give aroma and body. Graciano (Grape to look out for, on a revival) for acidity and polyphenolic content. The Mazuelo or better known as Cariñena, Cencibel or Carignan Noir, that gives the wine tannins, colour and acidity and last and less known Maturana. That is famous for its purple colour and bringing in some flavours. Flavours like peppers, balsamic and spice.

Back to the wood that I tasted. 

Now it’s not that general any more. 

The use of oak barrels changed. Although to be official Rioja producer you have to have 50 oak barrels of 225 litres. Rioja is protected through the whole process of winemaking by the control board. Strict rules are to be followed. Different styles are here. In the classic style oak is still present but more and more on the back. The modern style wines give you more and more reflections of the fruit. 

One region different soils.

 Rioja is divided in 3 subzones: Rioja  Alta, Baja and Alavesa. And recently extra specific vineyards are added. In general there are some differences  in soils and altitude.  For example the different valleys that Rioja has. Soil types you can find are for example chalk clay and alluvial.

Conclusion there’s a lot more behind a wine then the label. And yes Rioja is famous for the red (90%) but some white and rosé wines are made here.

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Port is like wine. Something that comes with many faces. And I am not only talking about styles. Like Ruby, Tawny or Vintage for example. I am talking about Producers or Port houses. Many with English backgrounds In fact we should be thankful for the English people.

Because wine didn’t survive the long boat trip. It was often oxidized, didn’t taste the way it should. Till one day they added alcohol to the wine (most likely to add water on the other side of the ocean) Tasting it there the way it was, and they liked it. “Port” wine was born (the short story) And yes many people order Port easily. Like red or white, with no further due. No interest in taste, producer or what so ever. They just want port. A shame!!! Something you’ll never do (again, from now on )

A ruby port from for example Dow’s or a ruby port from Kopke taste slightly different. The short minded will tell you they are the same; “both Ruby port. Kopke port will be more fruit driven in smell and taste. it are these little nuances you’ll like or dislike.

And some tawny are made like an old ruby (fruit driven) and others are far more matured. Think about that when you want to combine them with food. The classic port and cheese story we can flip as well. I believe that 90 % of all cheeses are better off with white port then with the red. Just try it out.  Do pay attention to the garniture; Figs, honey, nuts etc.

Did you know that many countries in Europe just “settle” for ruby and tawny port. And that America is one of the biggest consumers of Vintage and prestige ports? You’ll start asking yourself why. I hope you will be more picky next time if you are ordering or buying a port. It’s a fantastic drink on its own and with many dishes if he’s from the right producer or port house! 

Anyway the conclusion is that Port isn’t port because it’s port. But Port is port because it should be port. Just think about that while tasting a glass of …

Share your favorite port and why in the comments! Love to hear them from you

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I have a confession to make. I didn’t appreciate the Grüner Veltliner in the beginning. Maybe because I didn’t understand him. Maybe because the first encounter wasn’t the perfect one. The wrong bottle or not the right producer (for me). 

But now I can tell you full hearted. I love this grape, I like this wine. And man if you combine it with food you always run out of one of them. Last time for example with Salmon. Sniff Slurp Bite repeat and the glass really needed some refill. Sniff Slurp bite and I really needed some more Salmon.

“For me great wine and food pairings must be this way“

Grüner Veltliner is the most known white grape of Austria. Specially in the North in the so called Niederösterreich region.  The biggest quality wine region of Austria. (aka Qualitätsweinbaugebiet) Other grapes are planted like Riesling, Weissburgunder, and Chardonnay for the white. And blue grapes like the famous Zweigelt, Pinot Noir or St Laurent.

Grüner Veltliner, In general a fresh , alive and spicy white wine. You can recognize him often  by the flavour of white peper. Other flavours are stone fruits like yellow apple and green pear and often some chervil and green beans. The “best” Grüner Veltliner are wines from the so called DAC regions (Districtus Austriae Controllatus).  In short special region-typical quality wines. Whereby the fresh style are labelled “Classic” and the more rich and peppery style “Reserve” or “Smaragd”

The so called “smaragd” wines are in general from the Wachau region. Where they use “steinfelder” for low alcohol and fresh wines. “Federspiel” for average alcohol white wines and “smaragd” for the best quality wines. That can be kept for a long period. And is closed with a natural cork!

Any way I really hope you will try one (or all) of this great wines. Easy to recognize by the Austria Flag on the top. Taste it alone or with fish like I did or maybe with some Japanese cuisine. Ginger,Yuzu and Wasabi pairs in general  very well with the great “Grüner Veltliner” 

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The truth is Malbec is original French grape variety. But not all people did like him so they send him on a distance… It brings wines with a lot of colour and taste and due to the climate a little bit more smooth then the famous French wines of Malbec.

The popularity of the Malbec grape is a combination of facts. You can find price/ value wines at the retailer or you can find boutique examples at the wine store. It’s the elegant full flavour that makes a lot of wine lovers appreciate these wines. 

Malbec is a grape with a so called thick skin. It gives dark coloured wines with often a high alcohol level. The power is the combination of fruits and flavours that are in balance. Depending which attitude and/ or climate it’s growing.  Cool nights provide nice freshness and acidity in the wines to keep them easy and accessible.

Did you know Malbec grapes grow on the Andes mountains till nearly 1450 meters above sea level.

Mendoza is the Malbec capital. 

The Region knows 5 zones where 2 areas are most prominent. Zone Alta del Río and Valle de Uco.  Alta del Río is known as “La Primera Zona”  the classic heart of the Malbec vineyards where a lot of famous producers are settled. This area is now under pressure by the expanding of the city of Mendoza. That’s the reason why Valle de Uco is growing. With the help of international investments.  

Back to Malbec.

In general it gives wines with lots of red fruit. Think about Red Plums, Blue berry, Black raspberry or grape Jam. Add some vanilla, sweet tobacco and cocoa and here you go! Where basic Malbec are more in the juicy style  with red fruit and balanced tannin. The Reserva wines have more  black fruit aroma’s with sometimes a touch of chocolate. 

The higher you get, the better!

Malbec of higher attitude are seen as better quality. It will add some more tannin, acidity and herbal notes to the already full bodied wines in general   

So the most Malbec grapes are from or around Mendoza and worth to (re)discover

 

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The little lights at the sea. The gentle rocking of our blue and white boat in the harbour. A cosy tavern is all we need. On the background historical buildings, a statue of a Greek god I see. This love for this land will go further. Further to the vineyards you will hardly see. Greece is one of the oldest wine countries of the world. Sometimes hard to believe. Because you will have to look to find them. But from now on you will indeed.

From bone dry white wines from the famous Santinori (the volcanic isle in the sea.) too bold reds from Naoussa (the first appellation of Greece) and if you got a change to taste it. Maybe a glass of Mavrodaphne is all you need.

Mavrodaphne or Mavrodaphne de Patras is a famous almost “port style” wine from the Peloponesse region. Situated in the south west of Greece. It’s a sweet luscious ripe red wine from mainly the Mavrodaphne grape variety. Just try and you will see.

“Xinomavro a grape that has Greece written all over it”

Naoussa is all about Macedonia. The well known region in the North. It will bring you bold red wines from mainly the Xinomavro grapes. Free translated it means acid black. Rich in tannins with a great aging potential. Combined with complex aroma’s of red fruit and even some olives and spices.

And what about Santorini?

The famous Santorini, the volcanic isle in the sea. With his famous grape the Assyrtiko and very uncommon way of growing vines. It’s like a basket on the ground (Like some kind of bird’s nest), but it works. It gives the vines their protection. From the sun & the wind. Bone dry with citrus aromas and almost earthy after taste. The Assyrtiko at his best. Maintaining his acidity. And when you take a look at this Isle. How romantic can it be. 

Some grapes I still like to mention, just look them up you will see. Think about Agiorghitiko, Roditis and Robola. The love of Greece is sometimes all you need.

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From bone dry till luscious sweet Sherry has it all. This extremes make it the perfect wine throughout the whole meal. A wine with a long history, interesting  and with many faces. 

“sherry is the famous fortified wine out of Spain. Coming from the vineyards in the triangle made of the 3 famous cities. Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. 

Sherry is the most colourful wine there is. 

From almost pale white like many Fino’s (for example the famous bone dry Tio Pepe ) till all kinds of brown for the Oloroso or Amontillado styles. And all most black if you count the PX in (VDN from sundried  Pedro Ximenez grapes. Also known as the “Asoleo” process. 

The power of Sherry is the different styles and with that the amazing differences between producers. So if you didn’t like Sherry the first time you tasted it. This could be because you had the wrong producer (for you) or perhaps a little old bottle (to long open, Sherry can be kept for quite a while but a fresh bottle always got more aromas and flavour.) 

The types of Sherry in short

Fino and Manzanilla are the two dry styles of sherry. Where Manzanilla often has this little more salty flavour. Often pale dry and paired with a nice acidity and a touch of almonds. Both from Criadera’s that had the famous “flor” and made of Palomino grape.  Then there’s  Oloroso, this type of sherry is made with almost completely no flor. (alcohol is added to stop the flor) So oxidation occurs and give the sherry this brownish colour. It’s one of the more powerful sherry wines.

International Sherry week 6 – 12 november 2017

The time of maturing gives the many differences between them. So you have to try them first to know if a particular house is up for you. And the last one I want to mention is Amontillado. This is a more complex sherry in making and tasting. In fact it’s a little bit of both.  So partly reductive and oxidative. This gives many differences as well. Like the ratio between the two wines that are blended. More reductive more acidity, more oxidative more flavour. 

Golden tips buying / tasting Sherry wine

1) Buy the smallest bottle. You can taste one bottle or you can compare two half bottles. It’s up to you. 

2) Pick the right producers ! How just follow tip 1  or make a sherry tasting with friends.

3) Create the mood. Make a special sherry moment in your day/week. And add some tapas.

4) Keep a spare bottle around. Just for the occasion.

5) Mark your calendar. International sherry week is on his way.

Yes there are more styles of Sherry to discover  for example  Palo Cortado & Cream. So make a moment to taste them all. If you like sweet you really have to try the amazing PX.  Especially if you never had. And don’t forget to look at the fantastic coloured  rim 

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Germany and Riesling a bond for centuries. From the many steep slopes and different soils that Germany is rich. It gives wines in different styles. Wines for wine lovers. And wine lovers loves those wines. 

Acidity, sweetness, petrol & lime. Riesling here we go …

From the vibrant & lively dry Riesling style (think about the classic or selection line) that almost jumps out of your glass. To the more mature ripe and opulent styles like Spätlese or Auslese. These wines can be enjoyed when they are young, but many will improve with age. Think about decades  and longer. Even the ‘Kabinett’ wines, that almost flew out of the radar the last couple of years are age worthy wines. They surprised me and will surprise you to. If they are from the right producer. And if you can find them with age. Any way from the right producer you can buy the recent years and put them away for later. An investment in time. If you can keep them closed.

Kabinett,Spätlese and Auslese are examples of some off the so called “Prädikats” wines of Germany. The quality wines to look out for. While  Kabinett is a “light” wine made of ripe grapes and have very often a low alcohol degree.  Spätlese is more full bodied. The grapes are fully ripe and harvested late. And Auslese is made of fully ripe and selected grapes. This makes the many differences between them.  

The best Riesling region of Germany …?

For me there is no favourite Riesling wine region.  (Favourite producers I have.) Some great regions to look out for are Rheinhessen, Rheingau, Palz and off course the Mosel. It’s the subtle differences between the wines that is the leading role. In fact just put them next to each other. A great Riesling from Rheinhessen (known as the high quality region) next to a Riesling out of the Mosel.  Basic or GG (Grosses Gewächs= great growth a VDP classification) Some producers even give you different samples of wines from different soils like Schieffer (slate) or löss (loess). It’s amazing.

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